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To Texas with Love

Ventura County locals lend a helping hand to hurricane victims.

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Photo by Aaron Steed

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Well over 1,000 people lined up to collect Meathhead Movers’ donated supplies at the Lighthouse Church in Houston.

2017 has been one of the worst years on record for hurricanes. Hurricane Harvey, which hit the U.S. in late August, wreaked a path of destruction across the Texas Gulf Coast, with the brunt of the rain falling in Houston. Ventura County businesses and organizations wasted no time, setting up GoFundMe accounts and calling for donations. Amidst this impressive outpouring of support, a few individuals went the extra 1,500 miles, delivering the goods to Texas in person.

#FillThoseTrucks

Aaron Steed of Camarillo is the CEO of Meathead Movers, which has offices from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. “We were in a good position to help,” says Steed, noting that a moving company has the equipment, expertise and human power necessary for transporting goods a long distance.

“We wanted to do something to help out the Houston victims,” he continues, “so we went on the Internet, called and found places accepting items.” Communicating with relief workers at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Dallas, which operated as a mega-shelter, Steed verified that what was needed most was clothing (underwear in particular), diapers, baby items and toiletries. He sent word out through a vast network of friends, family, customers and vendors with the hashtag #FillThoseTrucks, and within just five days Meathead Movers collected some 50,000 pounds of brand-new supplies, enough to fill two semis and a 24-foot truck.

Steed also leveraged his professional contacts, bringing on board partners/sponsors U.S. Storage Centers (which provided space for donated items), foodservice distributor Southwest Traders Inc., Pioneer Packing (which provided a truck and driver) and TriDerma (medical-grade skincare products). “So many people felt good about it. Customers, vendors. A lot of companies were doing their own mini-drives and bringing it over to us. Neighborhoods took up collections, too,” Steed recalls. “People really liked knowing that things they bought went directly to people in need.”

On Sept. 6, the three trucks and their drivers — including Meathead Movers Fresno Operation Manager AJ Clarey and Steed himself — hit the road. “It took us three and a half days to get out there,” he says. What they found was sobering.

“There were streets that were just completely devastated,” Steed recalls. “So much wood and drywall was just thrown out. . . . This is happening in America — you just don’t see people so displaced. My goodness, I really feel for those people.”

Mega-shelter officials directed Steed’s team to the Lighthouse Church in Houston. “There was a line over half a mile long,” Steed says of the people who came to get the much-needed supplies. “Well over 1,000 people were there. It was quite a feeling.”

Those good feelings didn’t end in Texas. “My employees really love it, too,” Steed says. “This is one of the main reasons they love working for the company. It feels so good to come together to help people in need.”

(Not Just) For the Dogs

When Loanne C. Wullaert, manager of the Ventura Theater and owner/operator of Loanne Wullaert Presents, first started hearing reports of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, she knew what role she wanted to play in the relief efforts. 

“I love dogs,” she says. “We (my boss at the theater, Rob, and my housemates) facilitate dogs being pulled from high-kill shelters in L.A. and foster them until they can get re-homed.” Wullaert heard about shelters in Texas euthanizing animals to make room for displaced animals, and it touched her keenly. “Getting supplies to help keep them alive while people had time to relocate their pets seemed obvious and urgent.”

Wullaert posted to Facebook that she would be going out, and asked for donations of dog food and other pet supplies.

“Responses came in immediately,” she says. “Through Facebook, the theater, calls on my phone — it was an overwhelming amount of support.” People from Texas started making requests as well, so the donation drive began to encompass items for creatures on both two and four legs. Ventura Theater became a major collection station for pet supplies, water, clothing, hygiene products and more. It was enough to fill a truck with a trailer and an extra-long Sprinter van. 

On Aug. 31, Wullaert, Tom Stevens, Andrew Applegate and Karim Hernandez left for Texas, arriving in Houston on Sept. 2. The crew, now joined by Wullaert’s sister, Ilana Mcallister, and her friend Courtney, from Atlanta, first delivered supplies to Trinity Gardens Church of Christ on the outskirts of Houston.

“We were the first aid they had received,” Wullaert notes. “They could not believe their aid drove from California, when the people in the more local area had not checked on them.”

Pet supplies went to a distribution point run by the nonprofit Houston PetSet; hygiene products went to Cajun Navy Headquarters downtown. Officials there recommended that the group deliver the rest of their donations to the heavily damaged community of Beaumont.

“Beaumont . . . is where it really hit me, the degree of devastation,” Wullaert recalls. “Driving on the freeway was like driving between two vast bodies of water. You would see the occasional street sign or roof of a house poking above the water line, submerged tow trucks . . ..” Supplies were dropped off at a local church before the group started home.

In their absence, work at Ventura Theater continued apace. Volunteers — including Erika Harding, Amy and David Gomez, Jill Yarborough, Michel Miller and many others — took in clothing, food, bleach, diapers, etc. “The entire theater was filled with donations,” Wullaert says. By this point, distribution centers were no longer taking clothing, so a rummage sale was held instead, raising nearly $5,000, intended for Puerto Rico or possibly One America Appeal, an initiative launched by all five living former U.S. presidents to support relief efforts for Texas, Florida and the Caribbean.

“Basically, what started with a small request for dog food turned into something huge and amazing,” Wullaert says with a touch of awe. “And while my heart wanted to break for so many people . . . never in a million years did I expect the outpouring of support for strangers that I witnessed from the 805 and beyond.” 

For more information, visit Meathead Movers online at www.meatheadmovers.com and the Ventura Theater at www.venturatheater.net. For a timeline of the relief efforts, follow these organizations on Facebook.

Ventura Theater was ground zero for the outpouring of support from the 805, and was quickly filled with dog food, water, clothing, hygiene products and other much-needed supplies.

Theater manager Loanne Wullaert got by with a little help from her many friends who collected, organized and loaded donations.

Wullaert her sister, Ilana McAllister (above, at right), who flew out from Atlanta to help with the drive and distribution.

11-01-2017

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